Player From the Past: Satchel Paige
Leroy Robert “Satchel” Paige
Born: July 7, 1906 in Mobile, Alabama
Major League Debut: July 9, 1948
Final Game: September 25, 1965
Died: June 8, 1982 in Kansas City, Missouri
Satchel Paige was 42 years old when he made his major league debut. It wasn’t a question of if he had what it took to make the majors. It was more a case of blacks not being given the chance to play major league baseball till 1947.
His true birthdate is in question but since baseball-reference is using the July 7, 1906 birthdate we will use that for this article.
Paige had to struggle through his childhood in Mobile, Alabama. His mom made 50 cents a day working as domestic help for the wealthier white families in Mobile. His father was a laborer who took whatever work he could find.
Paige picked up the nickname Satchel from toting bags for passengers at the train station in Mobile and was known for being able to carry a lot of suitcases at one time.
He got in trouble with the law and spent several years in a reformatory.
His famous hesitation pitch was developed at an early age when white kids would throw rocks at him. He would throw rocks back at them but would hesitate and catch the ruffians at their most vulnerable moment when they were not moving.
By the middle 1920’s he was signed to pitch for a black minor league team. His mother didn’t want him to sign but when she found out that he would be paid $250 a month she relented.
One stipulation of the contract was that she would get $200 of the money while Paige would only receive $50 of his salary. Paige would later say in 1948 that his mother had never seen him pitch and probably never would.
She regarded playing baseball as sinning since it was playing and not working. He regretted that she never saw him pitch saying it would have made it a lot easier knowing he had her support.
Paige played for many black minor league teams for about 22 years including the Pittsburgh Crawfords which was one of the better known teams at the time.
He was known for telling his fielders to sit down in a game while he struck out the side.
Black baseball teams sometimes played in major league stadiums and drew a lot of fans. However they weren’t always allowed to use the dressing rooms the major league players used.
Paige got the break he waited for the year after Jackie Robinson was signed by the Dodgers. Bill Veeck was in need of another pitcher for the 1948 AL pennant race and signed Paige to a major league contract with the Cleveland Indians.
Before he signed him though he had Paige take an accuracy test. He placed a cigarette on the ground and Paige threw four of five fastballs directly over the cigarette.
He was 6-1 and had an ERA of 2.48 with Cleveland in 1948 and gave up only two homers in 72 innings. He would pitch only 2/3 of an inning in the 1948 World Series.
Paige fell to 4-7 in 1949 but had a respectable 3.04 ERA. He was released by the Indians after the 1949 season. Veeck had to sell the team in order to pay for a divorce leaving Paige without a team to play for.
He played in 1950 for an all star black team before Veeck bought the St. Louis Browns and Paige pitched for them for three seasons compiling a 18-23 record for one of the worst teams in baseball. Paige was the victim again of Veeck selling the Browns who became the Baltimore Orioles and he was released before he ever played a game for the Orioles.
If not for Bill Veeck he may never have played in the major leagues since whenever Veeck had to sell a team Paige found himself on the outside looking in on two occasions.
At the age of 47 his major league career was over except for an appearance in 1965 for the Kansas City Athletics. The Athletics owner Charlie Finley signed him to a contract and Paige pitched three scoreless innings and allowed only one hit in the game.
By then he was 59 years old and finished his major league career with a 28-31 record and an ERA of 3.29.
Joe DiMaggio said that Paige was the best and fastest pitcher he ever faced.
Paige was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1971. If not for racial prejudice he may have pitched in the major leagues for 25 years. Paige had been pitching in professional baseball for over twenty years when he finally got his chance to play in the majors.
No one can ever say for sure what he may have accomplished in the majors since he pitched for such a short time. However I can envision him winning 300 games and striking out 3000 batters if he been able to play from the middle 1920’s till 1953 when he finished his career except for the three innings he pitched in 1965.
Racial prejudice has robbed baseball fans of seeing some of the best players ever. Paige may have been one of the best pitchers in major league history if not for this prejudice.
Jackie Robinson was the first black player to play major league baseball 78 years after the first major league season of 1869 except for some players like Fleetwood Walker who played for the Toledo Blue Stockings in 1884 who played for a short time. Walker played in 42 games that year.
Writing this article has enlightened me and helped me realize how much credit Bill Veeck deserves for signing Larry Doby the first black player in the AL and Satchel Paige in 1948.
The Yankees wouldn’t sign a black player until they signed Elston Howard in 1955. The Red Sox were the last team to sign a black player when they signed Pumpsie Green in 1959 twelve years after the signing of Robinson.